May 30, 2019
By Dr Hanudin Amin
RAMADHAN is a sacred month for muslims at worldwide where they are obliged to fast and being encouraged to do charities and good deeds as many as possible to gain the rewards from the Almighty.
Good business-social interactions is one of the ways leading to gain the rewards.
Ramadhan bazaar is a marketplace, where sellers and buyers meet primarily for buy and sale purposes.
This article driven by three questions:
What are features to define a bazaar as Islamic?
Are there any unethical occurrences in the bazaar?
What is the code of soul for the bazaar?
Many people get engaged in small businesses and they are known as petty traders. By definition, a petty trader can be defined a person who runs a legitimate small scale of business that has the capacity of becoming a profitable business if closely monitored through the selling of products that is drawn from the sale of small inexpensive items like food items, handicrafts and others. However, it is quite subjective.
In the bazaar, most of the petty traders are selling their food items for the whole of Ramadhan, which is a substantial month, as it is one of the Pillars of Islamic Religion. If it is conducted accordingly, a petty trader can earn two rewards, financially (this world reward) and spiritually (thereafter reward).
It is a “choice” and I always believe in pious petty traders who act beyond his self-interest at the expense of the egoism theory for the ummah benefit.
Consumers, on the other hand, need also to act “Islamically” when buying a food item from the trader. There should be maslahah for both parties and more importantly, there exists mutual respect embedded in their souls.
In this write-up, I confine my viewpoint from the perspective of petty traders those selling food items.
Given the first issue, I outline five features to define the term bazaar as Islamic but are not restricted to:
Firstly, the market is selling lawful and of good quality food items. Evidently, all food items transacted in the bazaar are halal though there is a few without the halal certification. Halal certification brings up a message of Shariah compliance for public confidence.
Secondly, recording any transactions. When a petty trader is engaged in selling food items, there is a requirement to issue a receipt to denote offer and acceptance have been done in one place at a specific time to preclude any future misunderstanding.
Thirdly, there exists no monopolistic exploitation. The bazaar should allow traders who have the same capacity and skill to sell the same food items and no restrictions are imposed on them. Owing to skill sharing, today, however, many possess the same quality of food preparations though there exists a difference in taste and texture.
Fourthly, proper measurement is prioritised. A petty trader should not demand honesty from their customers while being himself dishonest. There must be a golden rule principle to depart when the trader is selling food items to buyers at large.
Lastly, forbidding riba al-fadl, gharar and maysir – These elements need to be scrutinised meticulously to avoid any social risks. Typically the first and the third are of no occurrence but surely there exists a sentiment of gharar if it is not closely monitored.
Insofar as it is not empirically checked, there exist cases of unhealthy practices of petty trading that erode one’s self-purification, brotherhood (mutual respect) and loyalty (repeat purchase) as follows:
Case #1 – Price discrimination – Perhaps, you are the lucky ones when you are pretty women or old citizens who buy food items from some gentlemen when the price charged is consistently offered. The real fact is that there is an incidence when the price is different when you are men or at least you are competitors or hated by appearance. Even worse, the price is skyrocketed when only a single petty trader is available to sell a particular food item.
Case #2 – Poor quality of ingredients – The quality of supplies used by petty traders is relatively unknown to buyers owing to their poor accessibility to the information owned by the sellers. We only realise the food items’ freshness when we break our fasting, and after all, we discomfort. Poor food items can lead to food poisoning that includes stomach cramps and vomiting, to mention some. However, I believe all petty traders have taken extra cautious when preparing their foods using a good quality of ingredients. The subtraction of harm is a Shariah obligation.
Case #3 – “One size fits it all”. To be a pious petty trader, perhaps the quality of tastes determines its door for profit but service quality is somehow essential. He can tailor to different consumer segments that require different approaches. It is about “Islamic” market segmentation. As such, can a pious petty trader sell food items to a dyslexia boy using the same approach to a normal boy?
To address, I propose “Code of Soul” or [COSO] as a way of out but are not limited to:
- Code #1–Don’t take too much money but let consider food giving implicitly – A petty trader perhaps can reward extra food as a sadaqah but no mentioning. Else, he rewards a discount for loyal customers;
- Code #2–Don’t price the food items inconsistently – let fair pricing prevails – A petty trader can charge a consistent price to all layers of individuals regardless of their ethnicity, origins or even one’s appearance;
- Code # 3–Don’t discriminate disabled persons but assist them – A guided transaction emanated from a pious trader can make disabled persons happy and being appreciated in our society. Begin with a smile (good intention);
- Code # 4–Don’t apply uncertainty but apply record – Giving a customer a signed receipt (the brief one) can be a good example to show ‘guarantee’ that a transaction has concluded between himself with the trader for a record; and
- Code # 5–Don’t sell poor quality food items but sell the finest ones – A question to ponder. Why does a breadwinner like to visit KFC? It can be out of (1) family value, and more importantly (2) the quality of the foods is consistent. These yardsticks can also be employed by pious petty traders for improved Ramadhan-based business.
All in all, Ramadhan bazaar is a wonderful place, where habluminannas (i.e. good people interactions) prevails beyond the sale of food items for gains.
Indeed, buyers and sellers can determine the colour and atmosphere of the bazaar by understanding the importance of mutual respect, transparency and trustworthiness.
Good to have good traders who sell food items ethically, good to have good buyers who buy food items and promote the traders and essentially good to have non-muslim buyers, who respect the Ramadhan month, where tolerance and love are brought into play.
*The writer is an associate professor at Labuan Faculty of International Finance, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Labuan International Campus (UMSKAL). He has a PhD from the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) in Islamic Banking and Finance (PG310163). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org